Where should I go to graduate school?

Well folks, I majored in Philosophy at SMU and now I want to go to graduate school…I’m just not sure where!

My intention is to become a professor, so I want to hear about Ph.D. programs, not M.A.

I’m not really interested in epistemology or phil. of mind. I love ethics and I get excited about ancient philosophy too (don’t ask me why.)

So let’s get started! Where did you do your graduate work? Do you teach now? What schools should I look into?

I am not up on where the good Philosophy programs are; I am sure there are rankings books which will tell you.

One thing to be cautious of just now are budget cuts. Many states are having budget problems, and they are cutting funding for public universities. Some schools are really having to slash-n-burn (Iowa comes to mind) and morale and resources can take a dive when that happens. I don’t know that I’d want to be a new doctoral student in that environment. Bitter faculty are not fun to work with.

Well, I’m a grad student in English and I don’t know anything about programs in philosophy, but here’s some general advice on how to make the decision:

  1. Talk to your undergrad profs, the more the better. (And make sure you talk to some younger ones – you want to know what the programs are like now, not forty years ago.) They’ll usually tell you a great deal about faculty and reputation, but less about student life, which is where the other two steps come in:

  2. Don’t forget about practicalities: where you want (and can afford) to live, how much the tuition will be, what sort of financial support various departments can offer, etc. (Looking back on it, my biggest mistake was assuming all of this stuff would take care of itself. It doesn’t.)

  3. Once you’ve narrowed down the list, get in touch with the departments that interest you and ask them if they can put you in touch with a current grad student in your field. (Most of them will be more than happy to do so; if not, it’s a bad sign.) Ask this person all the questions you can, even if you’ve already got answers from an “official” source. In particular, find out as much as you can about individual faculty members you’ll be working with, teaching conditions, and the general atmosphere of the department. (Pay attention to whether the current students look and sound happy! If visiting isn’t an option, you should at least talk to some people on the phone, as it’s a less guarded medium than e-mail.)

Good luck, and hope this helps.

I’m a grad student in Classics myself, and my advice would be to think about (recent) books or articles that you’ve read and enjoyed or thought were particularly insightful, and find out where the authors are teaching. That will get you started on what schools have good people in the areas you are interested in.

With graduate work, the department you do your work in, and the professor you work with are very important. Especially if you are doing research. You may want to track down professors who’s work you admire, or read up in your professional journals to see where the most interesting (to you) work is coming out of. Money is also the bottom line, so look for a professor who is being actively funded, and has recent publications. Also, if you’re going straight into a PhD program, location should be a consideration, since you’ll be there for 5-7 years.

But the professor isn’t everything. I’m in the sciences, but my undergrad thesis supervisor is contantly telling me that there are some great researchers out there, some brilliant chemists (and philosphers too, Im sure) who are absolutely HORRID to work for. They ask for too much, or they never publish your work, or are just plain grumpy and never happy with what you do. Talk to the professor, but also talk to his grad students, and undergrads who get to see a totally different side of him (or her).

Thanks for the advice folks. I have a former prof who is teaching at Rice now and there are a couple of other profs there that I would like to study under, so that is my main focus at the moment.

I’m also looking at schools in New England since I like the country up there and I have family in the general area. BU, BC, Michigan…


I agree that the Professor is important, and also that you need to
be able to get along with him/her. A friend had a very well know prof as an adviser, but the prof drove people literally crazy if they didn’t work as hard as he thought necessary.

Also - check on the tenure prospects of whichever professor you are interested in (it is not good if they leave before you are done) and on departmental politics. You might not want to be in a department where half the students aren’t allowed to talk to the other half.

Good luck! I went to undergrad school across the river from BU, and knew lots of people there (undergrads only.) It seems rather large - but that might not matter in grad school.

Another suggestion: Most departments publish (on the Web, among other places) a concise list of faculty with a one-sentence bio for each. The bio usually includes a mention of where and when the prof got his or her Ph.D. Take a look at the faculty from a number of different institutions. If philosophy is anything like engineering (and I’m betting dollars to donuts it is in this respect), you’ll find that fully 75% of faculty members get their Ph.D. at one of about eight different schools. Since you’re interested in becoming a professor, you realistically want to go to one of those eight.

Find out who at SMU went to those schools (for grad work) and ask them about their graduate experience. If they’ve got contacts at their old school (who maybe can get you a TA position?), so much the better. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of a good personal contact. While you’re at it (like Fretful Porpentine suggested) ask these professors what other schools you ought to be applying to.

Something to keep in mind: Nearly all undergrad professors will bend over backward to help you if you let them know you’re interested in getting a Ph.D. and becoming a faculty member. After all, who wouldn’t? “Professor X, I’m interested in becoming someone just like you.” It tickles their vanity. Utilize that resource.

My Darn Snake Legs, I’m actually at BU for Classics right now, just one floor down from the Philosophy department. I know they have some good people there, but I have no real specifics. Anyway, freaky.

Melandry, Maybe I’ll see you in a couple of years then :wink:

Thanks for the help folks! I was actually hoping that there would be a couple of Phil. profs who would just drop in and say something to the effect of:

“Hey, you’re a Doper and I’m aprof…forget that troublesome GRE and all that other BS and come to my school! Welcome to Harvard!”

Ah well…


LOL! I don’t think it works that way…

Although the other undergrad working in the lab with me was offered a graduate position in my supervisors lab. He was basically guaranteed the place if he chose to stay at the same school for his grad work. I know he applied, and it seems that’s what he’ll likely do.

I, on the other hand, have some time left before I apply, but pretty soon I’ll be in the same boat as you - kinda. I’ve chosen the school for personal reasons, so I gotta try and get a professor to take me! Anyone know who’s good to work for in organic chemistry at McGill? :slight_smile: (just kidding - no one has to answer that now - I’ll start my own thread when the time comes!)